Friday, 16 November 2012

Can we get rid of unnecessary guidance?

Liz Davies is both right and wrong in her analysis of the draft of the revised Working Together guidance -

She is absolutely right to be concerned that specialist multi-agency child protection teams have been disbanded. She writes:

Police and social work teams which had conducted comprehensive investigations and exposed organised and institutional abuse networks across the country are no longer in place and they rarely train together. These specialist teams, which had developed highly refined skills in the investigation of abuse and investigative interviewing of children and survivors, were lost through restructuring of services into a response to children in need in a far more general sense and the word safeguarding replaced the word protection in much government guidance.

But she is in error to confuse this problem with the issue of slimming down guidance. Indeed the decline of specialist teams, as Liz herself points out, dates from central government guidance in the 1990s which sought to refocus services on assessing need rather than investigating abuse.

And I think she has a roseate view of the WorkingTogether guidance in its traditional format. She says:

Working Together forms the basis of legal proceedings, family law, disciplinary hearings, professional training programmes and professional practice – the list is endless.

I think that it is a huge, confused and inaccessible confusion of some nuggets of wisdom, some vagueness and quite a lot of arbitrary rules. Some-one had to do something about it before it developed into a multi-volume work to rival Encyclopaedia Britannica.

However, Liz is quite right to be concerned that there is a danger that each local safeguarding children board may now decide to invent their own local guidance. That will lead to chaos.

The problem, I think, is not the length of guidance but its quality. The real problem is that the proposed guidance to replace Working Together is badly drafted and foolishly seeks to combine guidance on child protection with the framework for assessment.

I remain convinced that short, clear and useful guidance could have been drafted, although sadly now the opportunity may have been missed.

Eileen Munro was absolutely right to identify the problem of every enquiry making recommendations that were subsequently turned into procedures and guidance, resulting in the capacious volumes of procedures with which child protection professionals were supposed to work. In calling for them to be swept away she challenges us to think for ourselves, rather than looking it up in the manual.

The problem I fear may now be developing is that a lot of us are not ready for this change. There are too many people asking, “How shall we think for ourselves?”